A Man Reborn to Conduct Again; Described as the Most Illuminating Symphonic Conductor of Our Time, Mariss Jansons Brings His Pittsburgh Orchestra to Birmingham This Weekend. Terry Grimley Reports

By Grimley, Terry | The Birmingham Post (England), June 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

A Man Reborn to Conduct Again; Described as the Most Illuminating Symphonic Conductor of Our Time, Mariss Jansons Brings His Pittsburgh Orchestra to Birmingham This Weekend. Terry Grimley Reports


Grimley, Terry, The Birmingham Post (England)


Mariss Jansons is one of the world's most widely respected orchestral conductors, but in a sense he is a man who has had two careers.

The watershed between them came in the moment when, conducting a performance of La Boheme in Oslo in 1996, the then 53-year-old Latvian was suddenly struck down by a major heart attack.

It is said that with exemplary, if redundant, professionalism he continued to beat time as he sank to the floor. But happily, although a testing period of rehabilitation lay ahead of him, it has turned out that he was not waving goodbye to the public.

On Saturday he returns to Symphony Hall with the Pittsburgh Orchestra, of which he has been music director since 1997.

When I spoke to him some weeks ago he was in Berlin, where he was conducting the Berlin Philharmonic and he was able to assure me that his health is now very good.

You might think that it needs to be, since Jansons continues to balance his job in Pittsburgh with the music directorship of the Oslo Philharmonic, which he has held for an extraordinary 22 years, easily outstripping even the exceptional Rattle/CBSO partnership in longevity.

'I'm slowing down,' he told me.

'Before, I did a lot of guest conducting as well as the music directorships, but now I keep only a special group of orchestras - the Berlin Philharmonic, Vienna Philharmonic, Concertgebouw, Bavarian Radio because I can't do so many while, of course, keeping these two orchestras.

'To be honest I can't say I rest enough but I'm not so crazy like I was before.'

He spends 14 weeks of the year in Pittsburgh and ten weeks in Oslo. His home, by the way, is in St Petersburg.

'It is intensive, but you know if you enjoy it you get positive feelings and it's very good,' he said.

How has he managed to maintain his relationship with the Oslo orchestra for so long without succumbing to staleness?

'It's a good question. It's not easy, you know. If it becomes routine, it becomes very depressing, and if I would feel that, I would leave the orchestra much earlier.

'But it's still very fresh. People are asking why are you so long in Oslo, and I say because it still brings me pleasure.

'Generally from my nature I hate routine, and the way to keep it fresh is to bring something interesting to the orchestra, to do interesting new things, and in that way to be different.

'By which I mean sometimes you prepare very thoroughly with a lot of rehearsal and sometimes you ask the orchestra to be more flexible, so they get accustomed to different situations, and just generally to offer them interesting interpretations and fresh music-making.'

In any case, the Jansons who returned to the rostrum after his heart attack had a new perspective.

'Not consciously but unconsciously there was some sort of change in my understanding; something changed in me because of it. …

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